Akemi's Anime World

Akemi’s Anime Blog AAW Blog

Rose of Versailles Second Impression

About halfway through (just getting warmed up with the Revolution), and a few more thoughts:

The heavily embellished art is interesting. Some of it is classic shoujo extreme—swirls of roses, closeups of conflicting character faces superimposed on each other, flashy stills. Others are more symbolic—little reveries with characters symbolically getting stabbed artistically, laughing maniacally, or running away in tears right in the middle of a scene that doesn’t break continuity, making it clear that it’s in their head. And still more are somewhat 70s-ish raw artistry—shots that are covered by a torrent of blood, multi-panel repeated images (it goes absolutely berserk with Marie Antoinette’s big give-in to her court rival), and some just plain abstract backgrounds of swirling colors on occasion. Some are so overblown or old-fashioned it’s funny, some are actually surprisingly effective.

The use of light and color in a more literal sense (for example, gold-washed scenes at sunset) is memorable—definitely some good artistic design going on, and makes the overall somewhat garish old-school coloring much less noticeable on average, since it’s balanced out with artistically extreme coloring. Use of shadow is also pretty good for the era.

The court drama is growing on me. Still very petty, but then it repeatedly contrasts that with the miserable peasantry really giving a pretty good idea why the revolution ended up happening. It’s still somewhat sympathetic to the nobility without giving much reason for it other than a general “they’re people, too,” but the contrast is interesting, and seems to be going somewhere with Oscar’s increasing distaste for the rich and titled despite being one of them.

It finally got to some outright same-gender potential romance after 15 episodes, which is amusingly restrained given that in actual history Marie Antoinette was plagued by rumors of being a lesbian for most of her public life. Even more ironic that those public accusations aren’t mentioned at all until another half-dozen episodes later (though they do actually use the word “lesbian” which is more than can be said of a lot of yuri-themed stuff, plus an “in the manner of Lesbos” comment for some added historical flavor).  As for Oscar (the only one being more than just accused), she’s got one girl (and a few nameless courtiers) infatuated with her, but doesn’t even seem to register—I’d say straight as an arrow except for one scene where she’s (I assume unwittingly) totally putting the moves on.  She’s a bit of a cipher, however—maybe more going on upstairs than obvious.

Oscar remains an interesting character; likably manly, pretty restrained though occasionally loses it in particularly injust situations, and has a very, very low-key thing going with Andre—mostly “just friends” despite some obvious interest. The “I’m a woman living as a man’s man out of duty” angle is toned way down after the first few episodes, also—she’s pretty straightforward just a soldier doing her job with very little personal life after that, at least thus far.  Totally a wimp, too—the French Revolution isn’t her fault, but her inability to point out the obvious because she’s just too nice isn’t helping.

On that cipher note, the one big flaw in the characterization is that the series has a tendency to have people (particularly Oscar) be very observant with subtle goings-on when it’s important to the plot, and then completely oblivious the rest of the time.  I’m left wondering if Oscar is dense with flashes of brilliance of if the writing is just uneven.

Speaking of the cipher thing, that’s my biggest complaint with the art, actually—the character expressions often just plain don’t match up with what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. Particularly Oscar and even Andre, rather than having exaggerated emotional responses, frequently have sort of smug half-smiles even when they’re saying something serious. At first it made me think of them as kind of weird, but after a while I realized it’s just some serious disconnect in the artwork—the voice acting matches the plot fine, and is surprisingly good all around (Oscar in particular sounds powerful but still somewhat feminine—reminds me of Aya Hisakawa’s spectacular performance as Youko in 12 Kingdoms three decades later). The character animation is otherwise not particularly bad for the era—somewhat stiff, but there are a few above-average bits as well. The music is similarly out of synch with the plot; some scenes that are, so far as I can tell, intended to be taken as showing the nobility as out of touch are paired with overblown pretty music that makes it seem like the soundtrack is idealizing the wealthy lifestyle and the people living it much more than the series actually does.

A better soundtrack and character animators actually paying attention to what the characters are doing would really have helped a lot.

On the plus side, the rest of the character animation seems to have improved somewhat after maybe 20 episodes.

Historically, at least as far as Wikipedia can be trusted, it’s relatively accurate when it comes to general goings on. Obviously some villainous plots have been added, and Oscar of course didn’t exist and so a lot of what she’s involved in is fiction, but the most major villains and significant characters are proving to be ones with at least some historical accuracy.

Final thought:  It’s not a big deal, but there are a few blatant continuity flubs that are kind of amusing if you notice. Oscar gets stabbed, very clearly, in the back… then in the next episode it’s discussed at length how her arm is injured.  Earlier, they go into a one-room flat at street level, then jump out of the back window… which is a 3-story drop into a river.  Theoretically that could be possible, but I doubt it.

Overall, though, enjoying it more than I expected to.  It will be very interesting to see where it goes once the Revolution gets in full swing.

Rose of Versailles First Impression

Rose of Versailles, for those unfamiliar, is a classic shoujo manga and anime series from the mid-’70s.  Actually, it’s pretty much the classic shoujo series from that era, if not ever—kinda defined the genre.  Akemi (the real person, not the site mascot), like a whole lot of people, was a big fan.  When I asked her if there was anything she wanted to see, that was the answer I got, so…

A few episodes in, and I can see the appeal.  The story takes place shortly before the French Revolution, and centers on Oscar, a girl who, on account of a very disappointed father with one too many girls born, slapped his daughter with the unconventional name and spent her youth training her in swordfighting and generally manly arts.  Everyone is quite aware that Oscar is a she, and though (even knowing this) a lot of ladies are smitten by her, I’m told she’s pretty straight.  She’s also brusque, manly, and a little on the violent side, which makes for an interesting character; she’s got a rather cheerful male retainer/sidekick who’s the obvious love-interest, though their relationship is pretty man-to-man thus far.

Anyway, Oscar, being a skilled swords(wo)man, quickly gets picked to lead the guards in charge of protecting the young Marie Antoinette, an Austrian who’s just been married off to the crown prince of France as part of a peace deal.  Historical fiction, obviously, though I assume the general politics, historical flow, and at least some of the principle figures are real people (Oscar, of course, isn’t).  Wikipedia will be helping me not learn a completely confused version of French history at some point here, I sense.

So the history is interesting, the characters are thus far broad but also pretty interesting (Marie Antoinette is established thus far as nice enough but a complete ditz, which sort of lines up with what little I know about reality), acting is expectedly broad but the casting is interesting.  And, the first episode features a knock-down-drag-out fistfight between Oscar and her potential love interest.  That right there was enough to keep me interested in where it’s going.

Otherwise raging shoujo, for both good and bad.  Art is ’70s-style but decent (typically detailed eyes, which are the best part); heavy on the abstract backgrounds, and sparkles everywhere, offset by some not-bad backgrounds and a bit of nice architecture.  Also some passably dark settings for something from the garish era of coloring.  Character animation is of course pretty stiff, but not awful.  The faces are mostly above-average in expressiveness for the era, which is good, although Oscar seems to have only two expressions:  Studly and angry, and studly and slightly smug, though the latter doesn’t seem to match very well with what she’s saying or doing—seems more like “she’ll look coolest with this expression” than anything.

Subtle, it’s not.  Villains are obvious within about a second and a half, and the social “battles” (amounts thus far to Marie slighting the king’s mistress pointedly) are far more overkill than the swordfights—dramatic freeze-frames, musical flourishes, plenty of internal-monologue scheming and screaming.  That music in general is somewhere between overblown and outright ridiculous—not a strong point, and when you add in the somewhat harsh audio from way back it’s kinda grating.

The court battle isn’t particularly holding my attention—seems hugely petty, and frankly I can see why you’d have a revolution brewing even if everybody else wasn’t starving or oppressed.  Oscar wants nothing to do with it, so I maintain hope that she’s going to pull things back in a more interesting direction.  (And it’s not that I only find swordfights dramatic or something, I just don’t much care for petty social bickering between characters I dislike on all sides.)

Only other comment so far is that all the characters start out at about 14.  While I assume this is to have Oscar be the same age as Marie Antoinette, who by necessity would be that age when she was married off to France, she and her sidekick look, act, and sound at least 20.  Again, it’s hard shoujo, so I’ll just let that slide, and at least the royals act their age (both the young crown price and bride and the more interesting looking older ones).  Oh, on that note, there are a lot of older folks, and surprisingly enough a lot of them aren’t ridiculously skinny (Oscar, of course, is); the Austrian Empress is downright big-boned.

Of course, everybody is going to die tragically by the end.  The genre demands it, although anything set a few years before the French Revolution and starring a bunch of French nobles is pretty much guaranteed to end badly for those involved.

Closing non sequitur:  The second episode left me absolutely unable to resist the urge to blurt out an Austin Powers, “It’s a man, baby!” reference.  (Not because of Oscar, there’s a cross-dressing saboteur.)